Statement from Phil Pothen, Ontario Environment Program Manager, Environmental Defence

Toronto | Traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Chippewas and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation – MPPs who voted this afternoon to force passage of Bill 39 – the so-called “Better Municipal Governance Act, 2022” – have directly participated in breaking their government’s clearest, most emphatic promise to Ontario voters, and endorsed a vast transfer of public wealth to a few select real estate investors. That is because the substantive impact of Schedule 2 of the bill – Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Repeal Act – is to remove strong legal protection for the Greenbelt’s unique Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.

While the Ontario government has proposed to remove large areas of the Greenbelt, special legal protections for the key triangle of Greenbelt land connecting Rouge National Park to Duffins Creek mean that this 4000 acre jewel of the Greenbelt could not be opened to development without the active participation of individual MPPs. Each and every one of them was elected on the government’s express and repeated commitment that it would “not consider any proposals to remove or develop any part of it.”

The passage of Bill 39, Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Repeal Act, will enable a massive transfer of land value effectively held in trust for the public into the hands of a few well-connected real estate investors. This is because the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve was formerly public land, bought, paid for and belonging to the people of Ontario as a reserve, and rented out to farmers to maintain it as an agricultural preserve. While it was nominally “sold” to private owners, and ultimately found its way into the hands of the current owners, it was for a tiny fraction of market value, because the most valuable portion of the property rights were retained in trust for the people of Ontario in the form of an easement.

That easement protected the public interest in preserving the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve strictly as agricultural and natural heritage land. Bill 39 removes that easement, thereby transferring development rights worth millions – if not billions – of dollars to private real estate investors without payment of that money to the public.

It is clear that this extraordinary reversal of promises – and handover of public wealth – will not help accelerate housing construction. That is because the supply of “greenfield” land is not one of the factors constraining housing supply in Durham Region, where the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve is located. Even prior to the current round of urban boundary expansion, Durham has the GTA’s largest supply of farms and natural areas already designated for development and included within settlement boundaries, but sitting unused. While Durham Region consumed roughly 1,546 hectares of greenfield land in the 18 years between 2001 and 2019, it has roughly six times that much land, 9,509 hectares, sitting unused within its boundaries.

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact: Allen Braude, Environmental Defence,